FAIR Examination 9: Joseph Smith’s Polygamy-Responding to the Tough Questions

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hales

When people first learn that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage, many jump to the conclusion that this is another example of someone who used religion for power and sex. In this podcast interview with Dr. Brian Hales, author of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Dr. Greg Smith asks Dr. Hales some of the most difficult questions that are ever posed regarding polygamy. Smith asks, what do we know about why plural marriage was instituted? What did Emma know, and when did she know it? What was her reaction to plural marriage? How can we begin to understand polyandry, or instances in which Joseph married women who were married to other men? Is it possible that polyandrous marriages were not consummated? Even though there’s no good evidence for consummation of polyandrous relationships, what do we know about sexuality in the other marriages to single women? How can we begin to understand why Joseph married several women who were under the age of eighteen, including two brides that were likely 14 years old? Did Joseph send men on missions to “steal their wives” or marry them? Did Joseph threaten or manipulate women into being married to him? Could and did women refuse him? What were the consequences of doing so?

In addition to his three-volume work entitled Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Dr. Brian C. Hales is the author of Setting the Record Straight: Mormon Fundamentalism and also Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto, which received the “Best Book of 2007 Award” from the John Whitmer Historical Association. In addition he co-authored the 1992 publication The Priesthood of Modern Polygamy: An LDS Perspective, and is webmaster of mormonfundamentalism.com. Brian works as an anesthesiologist at the Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton, Utah, where he serves as Secretary of the Medical Staff. He also served as President of the Davis County Medical Society in 2009.

An active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dr. Hales has fulfilled many Church callings and is a former full-time missionary. He has presented at the Mormon History Association meetings, Sunstone Symposiums, and the John Whitmer Historical Association meetings on polygamy-related topics. His articles have also been published in Mormon Historical Studies, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, and the Journal of Mormon History. In addition to his historical works, Brian has authored three books on doctrinal themes entitled The Veil  (Cedar Fort, 2000), Trials (Cedar Fort, 2002), and Light (Cedar Fort, 2004).

Dr. Hales has a website on Joseph’s plural marriages here. His material on Mormon “Fundamentalism” is available here.

gsmith

Dr. Greg Smith studied physiology and English at the University of Alberta. After medical school, he did his medical residency in Montréal, Québec, learning all the medical vocabulary and all the French Canadian slang that he didn’t learn during his LDS mission to Paris, France. He is now an old-style country doctor in rural Alberta with interests in internal medicine and psychiatry. A clinical preceptor for residents and medical students, he has been repeatedly honored for excellence in clinical teaching.

A member of FAIR since 2005, Greg helps manage the FAIR wiki. Due to his research interest in plural marriage, he has spoken to the Miller-Eccles study group and been published in the FARMS Review on this and other topics. With twelve years of classical piano training, he is a life-long audiophile and owns far too many MP3 files. He lives happily with his one indulgent wife, three children, and four cats.

The talk about Dr. Smith’s own experience is available at: Gregory L. Smith, “Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Plural Marriage (*But Were Afraid to Ask),” FAIR Conference presentation (7 August 2009). The audio version of this presentation can be heard here. You can also hear an interview with Dr. Smith at FAIR Podcast, Episode 1: Gregory L. Smith.

Additional materials from the FairMormon wiki and elsewhere are provided below, as well as cross-references to Hales’ books for readers who wish to study his evidence in more detail.

  • Regarding the types of evidence that exist for studying Joseph’s plural marriages: See Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:6–21.
  • On fiction written about the Mormons rather than history or even journalism: See Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:23, 27–29
  • Regarding Joseph’s behavior and character:
  • On the Introduction of eternal marriage
  •  On Fanny Alger and Willaim McLellin
  • Regarding the reports of Joseph telling people about an angel commanding him to implement plural marriage.
  • On Polyandry
    • A YouTube presentation by Dr. Hales at a recent FAIR conference can be found here, with a transcript here.
    • FairMormon wiki articles can be found here and here.
    • See also Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Vol. 1, 303–474.
  • On the case of Sylvia Sessions Lyon.
  • Regarding other marriages to single women?
    • See Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Vol. 1, 277–302.
    • A more dated analysis is also available in Smith, “George D. Smith’s Nauvoo Polygamy,” 108–112.
  • Regarding children
    • See the FairMormon Wiki article here.
    • See also Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Vol. 1, 277–302.
  • With respect to marriages to young women
    • See the FairMormon Wiki article here and here.
    • See also Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 2:286–300, and Craig L. Foster, David Keller, and Gregory L. Smith, “The Age Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives in Social and Demographic Context,” in Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster eds., The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy (Independence, John Whitmer Books Press 2010), 152–183. Keller also explores some of the data discussed in this article on-line here and here.
  • A summary of the Temple Lot case, with citations from Hales’ volume is available here. See also Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:404–407.
  • With respect to whether Joseph sent men on missions to marry their wives
    • See the FairMormon Wiki articles here and here.
    • Marriage to Orson Hyde’s wife is discussed here.
    • See also Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 313–315, 515–594.
  • Did Joseph threaten or manipulate women into being married to him? Could and did women refuse him? What were the consequences of doing so?
    • See the FairMormon Wiki articles here and here.
    • On Nancy Rigdon and Sarah Pratt, see here.
    • See also Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:274–275; 2:31, 115, 120–121.
  • With respect to Emma’s reaction to plural marriage
    • See the FairMormon Wiki article here.
    • See also Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Vol. 2, 33–138.
  • Regarding the unique dilemma in which Emma was placed by plural marriage
    • See the FairMormon Wiki entry here
    • See also Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Vol. 2, 113–138.
  • For views on why was plural marriage instituted

The opinions expressed in this podcast and in the referenced books, presentations, podcasts and articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FairMormon.

6 thoughts on “FAIR Examination 9: Joseph Smith’s Polygamy-Responding to the Tough Questions

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  2. TheodoreB

    Excellent discussion!

    All those sealings to Joseph and only two offspring that were not Emma’s, in the days before artificial birth control??? It appears that few of those sealings were followed with sexual relations.

  3. Bill McGee

    Two points:

    1. Please make it clear that Dr. Hales is a medical doctor, and does not have a degree in history or any field related to this topic. We can all agree that he has done wonderful, extensive research. But to some, it appears that he begins his analysis of the data with his conclusions already in place – which often seem at odds with the actual information.
    2. Please also make it clear that credible, credentialed, and professional historians reviewing this same material disagree with many of Dr. Hales’ conclusions, including those regarding Joseph’s physical relationship with the women he was polygamously married to, including with his polyandrous wives.

  4. Stephen Smoot

    @Bill McGee:

    1. Your assertion that “[Dr. Hales] begins his analysis of the data with his conclusions already in place – which often seem at odds with the actual information” is meaningless unless you can provide some concrete examples of this in his works on the subject of Joseph Smith’s plural marriage.
    2. If we are to dismiss Dr. Hales’ work because he isn’t a historian, then what do we do with the work of, say, Fawn Brodie, who also was not a professional historian? (For that matter, I’m not even sure George D. Smith has degrees in history, though I could be mistaken.) The idea that one has to be a professional historian in order for one’s conclusions to be sound is a fallacy. What matters is whether Dr. Hales’ conclusions are backed up by sound evidence and argumentation. (What’s more, Dr. Hales did have Don Bradley as his research assistant/co-author, who does have training in history.)

    I say, let Dr. Hales’ arguments stand or fall on their own merit.

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  6. lindasdf

    I have been thinking about this (I’m no scholar or anything, just a SAHM), and while I can’t comment on Joseph Smith’s polygamy, I thought about it in general, why people are so against it, and why it will probably never be legalized.
    When two people get married, the “elephant in the kitchen” so to speak, is sex. Married people have sex. It’s a given.
    When people are not married, it’s much easier to keep sex out of the picture. Couple not married = no sex.
    So, when someone marries more than one woman, as Joseph Smith supposedly did, or Brigham Young did, or other men have, the first thing people are going to think is SEX! Since married couples have sex, then obviously he must have married those women to have sex. If he had not married them, there was no sex, unless the evidence was powerful and overwhelming.
    Now, as to why it will probably never be legalized, we have to go to the halls of power, our states’ and nation’s capitals. Men (and even some women) in power.
    Everyone knows that rape is not about sex, but about power. And powerful men have sexual relations with other women because it gives them that feeling of power.
    One obvious example is Bill Clinton, and Monica and Gennifer, and who knows who else. If polygamy were legal, the power is now with the women, who would say to the Bill Clintons of the world “if you want it, you better put a ring on it!” Everyone knows that it’s much more lucrative to be married than to be a mistress. The Bill Clintons of the world like having several mistresses, but don’t EVEN want to think of several wives!

    Which is why, even if Joseph Smith was married to half the women he was supposedly married to, he is to be commended, not vilified. Although, seriously, from what I’ve been reading, I doubt he was married to half the women he was supposed to be married to. I also think that many of those were sealings but not real marriages. In any event, he couldn’t have had sex with all of them, he wouldn’t have had the time or the energy! And if sex was all he wanted, he could have just taken them aside and said “God wants me to have sex with you” or something like that (like what John Bennett did and got ex’d for). In any event, it does not (should not) take anything away from his being the first prophet of this last dispensation.

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